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After Fidel Castro's death, Cuban Americans have complicated feelings

Cuba's President Fidel Castro waves to press upon his arrival in Cordoba, Argentina on July 20, 2006.
Cuba's President Fidel Castro waves to press upon his arrival in Cordoba, Argentina on July 20, 2006.
JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images
Cuba's President Fidel Castro waves to press upon his arrival in Cordoba, Argentina on July 20, 2006.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro is presented with an invitation to the New York Press Photographer's Ball, in New York City on April 23, 1959.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Cuba's President Fidel Castro waves to press upon his arrival in Cordoba, Argentina on July 20, 2006.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela (L) hugs Cuban president Fidel Castro in Johannesburg September 2, 2001. Castro took part in the UN World Racism conference in Durban.
YOAV LEMMER/AFP/Getty Images
Cuba's President Fidel Castro waves to press upon his arrival in Cordoba, Argentina on July 20, 2006.
December 17, 1969: Fidel Castro gives a speech with the national flag of Cuba in the background.
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Cuba's President Fidel Castro waves to press upon his arrival in Cordoba, Argentina on July 20, 2006.
Cuban President Fidel Castro with a national banner during the May Day ceremony in Havana in 2006.
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images


Like many Cuban Americans around the country, Southland residents are taking stock of what Fidel Castro's death means — both personally and politically.

Castro, who led a revolution that overthrew Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista in 1959, died on Friday evening at the age of 90.

Some local Cuban Americans have gathered in Echo Park, near a statue of Cuban national hero José Martí, to celebrate.

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"This is a significant development for Cuba, for Latin America and for U.S.-Cuban relations," says Manuel Pastor, a professor of sociology at USC. "I think there's a sense with the death of Fidel Castro that the future of Cuba is much more up for grabs."

Pastor was born in the United States. His father emigrated from Cuba in the 1930s, among an earlier wave of immigrants who left the country out of economic desperation.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro (R) shown in file photo dated May 1963 meeting with his Soviet counterpart Nikita Khrushchev during a visit to Moscow.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro (R) shown in file photo dated May 1963 meeting with his Soviet counterpart Nikita Khrushchev during a visit to Moscow.
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Tessie Borden, who lives in Mount Washington, was born in the United States to parents who fled Cuba during the 1960s. She says her feelings about Castro's death are complicated.

"In some ways, I feel like my life would have been very different if Fidel hadn't come to power, because I would have been full-blooded Cuban," Borden tells KPCC.

She has not yet spoken to her mother, who lives in Texas, but says, "I suspect that my mother is very happy this morning. She's probably one of those who, like [the people] in Miami, are celebrating."

Pope Benedict XVI meets with former Cuban President Fidel Castro at the Vatican embassy on March 29, 2012 in Havana, Cuba.
Pope Benedict XVI meets with former Cuban President Fidel Castro at the Vatican embassy on March 29, 2012 in Havana, Cuba.
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Borden's comments highlight what is sometimes a generational divide among older vs. younger Cuban Americans.

"I don't feel sort of the rabid hatred that some of the people who had to flee, the refugees, feel," she ays. "I never had a homeland taken away from me, so I can't blame that feeling. But at the same time, I feel like over time, it's become almost a caricature. It did get in the way of perhaps finding a different road for Cuba. And I think that kind of division happened on both sides."

Pastor echoes that sentiment: "Cubans who came over in last 10 or 20 years or Cuban Americans who were born in the U.S. don't have quite the same visceral reactions to Fidel Castro. That generational difference is now going to play out probably in a pretty dramatic way."

He also points out that significant change occurred when Fidel Castro handed over the presidency to his brother. The less charismatic and powerful Raúl Castro has walked a more moderate path than his fiery older brother. He has been more open to market activity and vowed to leave the presidency in 2018.

A new report by a human rights organization says the current Cuban regime, headed by President Raul Castro, uses an
A new report by a human rights organization says the current Cuban regime, headed by President Raul Castro, uses an "Orwellian" law to keep dissidents locked up.
Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images

"I don't think this single death is by itself is going to create tremendous change," Pastor says. "But it's a pretty symbolic moment. We'll have to watch for the next six months to see whether the symbolism of the passage of Fidel Castro gets translated actual political and economic change on the island. If that happens and there can be more moderate path to change, that would be a good thing."